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Political travel raises criticism


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POSTED: Thursday, July 23, 2009

A group of 16 Democratic state lawmakers is in Philadelphia this week, attending the National Conference of State Legislatures' 2009 Legislative Summit, discussing issues ranging from federal stimulus money to renewable energy solutions.

The trip is raising questions at a time when hundreds of state workers are preparing for the possibility of losing their jobs due to the state's financial crisis.

“;At this point, where everybody else is cutting down trips—they're cutting down non-essential expenses—I think either the delegation should not have gone at all, or maybe you send one person from the Senate and one person from the House,”; said Sen. Sam Slom (R, Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai).

Slom described the 16-member delegation as “;overkill.”;

Democrats defended the trip, saying all states are facing unprecedented economic troubles, and sharing thoughts on how to tackle the situation has proven to be invaluable.

“;We took the trip because we need to see what the other states are doing,”; said Rep. Michael Magaoay (D, Schofield-Kahuku), the House vice speaker. “;Their problems are similar to what we have.”;

               

     

 

State lawmakers all Democrats who are attending the National Conference of State Legislatures' 2009 Legislative Summit this week in Philadelphia.

State Senators
        Carol Fukunaga
        Les Ihara
        Russell Kokubun Clarence Nishihara
        Brian Taniguchi

       

State House representatives
        Karen Awana
        Tom Brower
        Jerry Chang
        Isaac Choy
        Ken Ito
        Jon Riki Karamatsu
        Michael Magaoay
        John Mizuno
        Mark Nakashima
        Joseph Souki
        Roy Takumi

       

 

       

Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu, the House Judiciary Committee chairman, said it is helpful to see how other states are preparing for bigger budget gaps and learning how to take advantage of federal money that is expected to be made available.

“;All the states are competing for money,”; said Karamatsu (D, Waipahu-Waikele). “;Whoever is up and ready—policy-wise, executively and administratively—will get some of these federal dollars.”;

The exact cost of the trip was unavailable.

Expenses are paid with public money from legislative allowance funds, but members plan their own travel and lodging and file expense reports when they return, said House spokes-woman Georgette Deemer.

Current airfare and hotel for a weeklong visit to Philadelphia runs between $1,600 and as high as $3,000, according to travel Web sites. Registration at the conference is $625 at the door, but early registrants paid a lower fee of $499.

Republican leaders agreed such conferences can prove useful, but House Minority Leader Lynn Finnegan said travel should be determined each year. She said House Republicans informally agreed to cut back on such trips because of the state's fiscal situation.

“;This is not like any other year,”; said Finnegan (R, Mapunapuna-Foster Village). “;You have to make a call and I think the call this year was: If we do go, we go on personal funds, at our own expense.”;

Magaoay noted lawmakers already have completed their work on the budget, even overriding dozens of Gov. Linda Lingle's vetoes to pass their version of a balanced budget.

“;Right now, as legislators, our hands are tied,”; Magaoay said. “;We did our work in the session and now it's up to the governor. She mentioned that she won't release the funds.”;

He said he was willing to accept any criticism for taking the trip.

“;We will always have criticism,”; he said. “;But we always have to find a solution.”;